Planning for learning

When constructing whole-school and classroom programs, teachers design and organise learning sequences towards the acquisition of understandings. These understandings have value and meaning beyond the years of schooling and contribute towards the development of students as lifelong learners.

In Good News for Living a three-stage backwards design approach to planning for learning developed by Wiggins & McTighe (2000) is utilised to assist programming and planning in Religious Education. Principles underpinning backwards design encourage teachers to make judgments about important learning goals for their students, to decide on appropriate ways students can show their learning, and to plan the appropriate learning experiences for effective student learning.

A Religious Education program based on a sound backwards design framework:

  • makes learning and teaching more connected, coherent and balanced
  • focuses learning on real-life questions and issues
  • clarifies expectations and strengthens the instructional dimension of the classroom program
  • respects diversity amongst students
  • links planning, teaching, assessing and reporting
  • helps identify the individual student’s progress in learning
  • provides a useful framework and a language for reporting
  • identifies goals within the cognitive, affective and spiritual dimensions of learning (GNFL, 2005, p. 69.)

"Backwards design" is a way of thinking purposefully about curriculum planning that centres on the idea that when teachers plan units of work, they begin by identifying the desired learning outcomes and then, “working backwards”, they develop assessment opportunities and teaching sequences. This contrasts with the traditional approach to curriculum planning, which involves defining which topics need to be covered.

The three stages of backwards design align with the formative questions: Where do you want to go? How will you know that you have got there? How will you get there?

Wiggins & McTighe (2006) identify the three stages to backwards design as follows:

Stage 1: Identify desired learning outcomes

Teachers identify what students should know, understand and be able to do. These outcomes may be identified using the RE curriculum, Good News for Living, and the outcomes specified for each year level. In RE, teachers also need to consider the theological and core doctrinal concepts, Scripture, and the content descriptors for all three strands of the GNFL curriculum (knowledge, and understanding and skills).

Stage 2: Determine assessment evidence

Teachers consider the achievement standard for the relevant year level and decide what constitutes acceptable evidence of achievement in the learning outcomes identified in stage 1. Teachers then design assessment tasks that would allow students to demonstrate their knowledge, and understanding and skills, which includes differentiated tasks. Whatever is assessed in stage 2 should be aligned with whatever is identified in stage 1.

Stage 3: Plan learning experiences and instruction

Teachers plan learning experiences and instructional strategies that will most effectively allow students to develop the knowledge, understanding and skills identified in stage 1 and to complete the assessment tasks developed in stage 2. Planning should document any adjustments made for individual students.

Note that backwards design is not rigidly linear or step-by-step: teachers will find themselves constantly circling back to aspects of the design that need revision. Backwards design planning templates are designed only to guide teachers through the three stages and to assist them to clarify their thinking in those stages. Different schools will use different templates.


Good News for Living. (2005). Hobart, Tasmania: Catholic Education Office, Archdiocese of Hobart.

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2000). Understanding by Design. United States: Pearson Education.

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2006). Understanding by Design : Expanded Second edition (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.